There's been a steady drumbeat of news from IBM about acquisitions, partnerships and innovations over the past 12 months related to financial services. And while the company's interest and involvement in the sector is nothing new, those who follow Big Blue say it would be a mistake to classify the recent activity as just business as usual.

The financial services industry is at a critical inflection point, analysts say, creating business opportunities for companies that can help institutions better mine and utilize their data. IBM along with competitors such as Oracle and Hewlett-Packard are jockeying for position. "IBM has a broad footprint and broad expertise," says Rodney Nelsestuen, a senior research director at TowerGroup. "But they have a lot of competition, and it's not bad, either. The demand for data and information is growing in order to better understand customers and meet regulatory requirements; the financial services industry is undergoing change, and they all have a great opportunity that is unfolding in 2010."

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